25 March 2019, 13:57

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events on March 18-24, 2019

Conviction of Chechen rights defender Oyub Titiev; change of the leader of the main oppositional force and NATO exercises in Georgia, – read about these and other events in the Caucasus that occurred from March 18 to March 24, 2019, in the weekly review prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Sentencing of Chechen rights defender Oyub Titiev

On March 18, a court in Chechnya sentenced Oyub Titiev, the head of the Grozny office of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) "Memorial", to four years in a colony-settlement after finding him guilty of drug possession. Titiev claimed that the drugs had been planted on him. The HRC "Memorial" presented 10 facts testifying to the falsification of the criminal case. The court treated the testimonies of defence witnesses as insignificant, arguing that they positively characterized Titiev, but failed to justify him for drug possession. Oyub's brother called the verdict cruel, and Oleg Orlov, the head of the "Hot Spots" programme of the HRC "Memorial", noted that the whole trial had the accusatory bias. At the same time, according to Orlov, thanks to campaigns in Titiev's support, the court imposed a softer punishment than demanded by the prosecution.

In their turn, Alvi Karimov, the press secretary of the head of Chechnya, and Djambulat Umarov, the Chechen Minister of Information, have announced that the softer verdict to Titiev than demanded by the prosecution is an evidence of the authorities' non-interference in the trial. However, the authorities achieved their goal – to squeeze independent human rights organizations out of the region, residents of Chechnya believe. The Titiev's trial has demonstrated all the vices of the Russian justice, the Amnesty International (AI) has commented on the verdict. Oyub Titiev should be immediately released, the European Union (EU) has stated. Western diplomats blamed Russia for using the court as a tool of political persecutions.

Resignation of Alexei Orlov from the post of head of Kalmykia

The Kalmyk leader Alexei Orlov resigned on March 20; Batu Khasikov, a kickboxing world champion, who was a republic's senator from November 2012 to September 2014, has been appointed as the acting head of the region. Orlov won the early election and took office on September 19, 2014. He has stated that, despite the "mistakes" and "missed opportunities", he leaves the post "with a calm soul and a calm heart." A source noted that the new republic's head has "the lowest anti-rating" in the region.

Change of the leader of main oppositional forces and NATO exercises in Georgia

On March 24, the delegates to the congress of the United National Movement (UNM), the main oppositional Georgian party, elected the former presidential candidate Grigol Vashadze to chair the party. This post was earlier held by the former president, Mikhail Saakashvili. Let us remind you that on January 20, 2017, the UNM decided that the chairmanship would remain free, and until Saakashvili's return to Georgia, the party will be managed by the leadership elected at the congress. On March 18, 2019, Mr Saakashvili announced his departure from the post of UNM chairman, since he could not return to Georgia and lead the party on the spot. Mr Vashadze will be the formal leader of the party, which Saakashvili will continue leading, Zaal Andjaparidze, the programme coordinator at the International Centre for Conflicts and Negotiations, believes. The analyst, Nodar Kharshiladze, does not agree, being confident that Vashadze "will not be no one's puppet,", since he is "a principled man of deep convictions."

The NATO exercises began in Georgia on March 18 and will last until March 29. They involve over 350 servicemen from 24 countries, as well as humanitarian organizations – the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations Department of Peacemaking Operations and the United Nations World Health Organization. The exercises are held for the first time under the Georgian command. The Georgian Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced the strengthening of the country's defence as the main goal thereof. The Alliance's exercises in Georgia and more frequent exercises in Southern Russia demonstrate the USA versus Russia opposition, Georgian experts say.

New charge in France against Dagestani senator Suleiman Kerimov

On March 19, 2019, Suleiman Kerimov, a member of the Federation Council (a senator) from Dagestan, was accused in France of complicity to tax evasion. The senator paid a bail of 20 million euros to remain at large. However, his advocate asked the court to return his bail, stating that the senator had been transferred from a witness into a defendant, although no new circumstances of the case were revealed. Let us remind you that on November 20, 2017, Kerimov was detained in France and charged with laundering the money obtained from tax evasion. In December 2017, the court released him on bail of 5 million euros, and on June 28, 2018, French law enforcers dropped charges from Kerimov and transferred him into the status of a witness, after which Kerimov returned to his work at the Federation Council.

This article was originally published on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’ on March 25, 2019 at 09:01 am MSK. To access the full text of the article, click here.

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